Stranger in Paradise – Observation, Voyeurism and Revelations in Episode 12 of Rahxephon

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Episode 12 of Rahxephon forms a visual mirror to episode 11, beginning with a scene that picks up the pervasive clinical imagery of TERRA supervising Ayato during his disappearance; this time, Quan is apparently dying. The subsequent scene, as she is observed, provides the viewer with private information – she is an “M-Type”, and of great importance. That she is not human, or at the least partially related to the Mu, has been made clear in scenes such as that within the temple previously – what this scene does is reveal that it is no secret to the Federation, and Kisaragi’s suspicious assistant. They play on the idea of surveillance, implying that they have been having sex in the observation room and wondering if Quan was actually watching them. Intimacy has previously been quite distant in Rahxephon and this scene picks up again on the dream-world of episode 11; there, faux-intimacy created a sense of the uncanny as characters usually frosty became incredibly affectionate. Here, the suspicious nature is presented openly; Sayako is told that the Federation are “honest” in their desire to help an unknown “him” yet they remain cagey about what exactly that are doing, or who it will benefit. Making any implications from this is hard; the characters by now have fingers in so many pies that about the only certainty is it is unlikely to be Ayato, who still has no real agency.

The line left hanging that something done here will “help him” ends the scene, and as Sayako leaves it is shown that Quan awakens; whether or not she really was a voyeur in any implied sex remains unknown yet again the episode is playing on themes of observation and secrecy. Observation is effectively the next step in distance and dehumanisation, and shows how the series’ scope is changing. At first it combined ideas of powerlessness and not being in control with the traditional super-robot trappings of a mysterious enemy and secret base; now the emphasis is far more on the lengths to which characters will go to find out what they want to know from others. The episode featuring Kunugi’s day off was a good example; everyone tried to find out the truth of his actions, and in the end all were wrong. This was directly followed by the episode in which Ayato was presented with a bizarre dream-world orchestrated by the Mu, and TERRA’s inability to cope with no longer being able to monitor him. Now the matters are small, personal ones which are no less significant; Haruka’s conversation with Sayako, in which she teases information which the audience has seen implications of while also stressing that she will not betray any of her own secrets, shows a kind of hypocritical fear of observation from someone whose business seems to be observing.

When Ayato is finally properly introduced in the episode – before, he has only been seen briefly leaving Quan’s hospital room – he is shaken by past events. His dream of life back in Tokyo saw him assault Haruka, apparently as an embodiment of a suppressed desire for her, and now he cannot be around her comfortably. Haruka is being presented here as an outsider, and the visuals frame this; the angles used make her seem small and distanced from the action, with the short scene with Ayato ending with a shot of her walking upstairs with her head out of shot. The series frequently uses disarming or unfocused camera angles in its scenes – episode 11 played with adding borders to the picture to visually show how integrated into the dream Ayato was, and throughout it has used awkward composition – with focal characters left headless or out of focus – to give an almost voyeuristic, unwelcome edge to scenes. Clear closeups are as a result made much more powerful; when the camera returns unimpeded to Haruka, it is for her personal opinion on a conversation in the background – a closeup here denoting a personal monologue discrete from the world around.

As if to keep up the theme of observation, an apparently contextless scene from the episode’s introduction is concluded; a mysterious traveller is taken to a remote mountainside, and begins photographing mysterious excavations at a pyramid complex. He is subsequently shot, and his equipment confiscated by a woman left obscured by the fallen camera yet who – as can be implied from her outfit, and a better shot of a similarly-dressed woman earlier in the sequence – may be Elvy. This leads subsequently into a continuation of an apparently abandoned plot thread – the mysterious Bahbem Foundation, alluded to from time to time and last properly seen in episode 6. Kim mentioned that the Foundation were monitoring Quan, and the newly-introduced Helena – some kind of subordinate to the old man seen talking in a previous episode to Kunugi – confirms this. The “time of awakening” – evoking the conversation Quan had with Reika in the temple – is apparently close. The old man – presumably Bahbem himself – is himself acting strangely, motioning as if he is stroking Helena’s hair like when she was a child. Here the visuals are uncertain; Helena as an adult is clearly in the room, delivering her report to Bahbem, yet this scene is juxtaposed with images of a younger Helena at Bahbem’s lap. These images end with younger-Helena looking directly at the camera – a kind of shot established already as one communicating personal, secret information.

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The reapparence of Futagami – formerly the embodiment of observation and illicit knowledge but increasingly shown to be behind the times – now almost feels like a ridiculous release of tension. His appearance is predictable, his affable front already well exploded as a facade – and he is butting heads with Ayato, who is known to be ignorant. Yet Futagami is trying to find out this time about Tokyo and the Mu, and provides confirmation of a mystery established right at the start of the series. He hands Ayato a photograph of a man called Kouki meeting with Ayato’s mother, with the officers operating the first Dolems in the background, and calls them “the people who sold out Earth.” It is not made clear whether Futagami knows Ayato’s mother is an alien, or simply understands her to be a collaborator, yet this revelation does provide its own sense of closure to an ongoing mystery. These cycles of tension and release are picked up in the juxtaposed scene, too; the pilots of Elvy’s squadron mess around while she remains on the outside of events, concerned about the failure of her unit against the Dolems. An interesting subject within the genre is raised in her conversation with a wingman; she is worried the fighter squadron are being obsoleted by the vastly more powerful and capable Rahxephon. The relationship between a super-robot and its support craft is generally – in the genre’s roots – a perfunctory one. Generally the failure of conventional arms is used to show the strength of the hero, and clearly define a threat as unnatural. Much like Kunugi’s appraisal of what motivates Ayato, then, Elvy’s conversation here seems self-consciously aware of the cliché she embodies as a character.

 

Back at TERRA, Foundation officers finally arrive to see Quan missing – apparently she is meeting with Reika, or Ixtli, in the Rahxephon’s tank. Now the viewer has had a better exposure to the Foundation, another visual detail becomes apparent; Quan’s tattoo or birthmark is a mirror-image of the Foundation’s logo. As the two of them stand together in front of an enormous window, images of sharks and fish circle between them to fade into a picture of the first Dolem, and then parts of Nirai-Kanai before returning to the Rahxephon’s first awakening. It apparently appears in the window, and Quan is once again taken ill – with her collapse the visions disappear yet Ixtli continues to talk, picking up on the vision from the temple. She claims that Quan’s awakening is soon and that “the instrument within” her will sound – the scene cutting to a second egg like that from which the Rahxephon came. It is revealed she has apparently completely disappeared following this conversation with Ixtli – locations previously associated with disappearance such as the temple are revisited by TERRA.

Her subsequent reintroduction is surreal; she is standing apparently on an abandoned pier in a scene almost exactly recreating Ayato’s visions of Reika early in the series, singing a song reminiscent of Stranger in Paradise. Whether or not this is an intentional musical choice, it is an interesting one; at the very least the subject of the song’s lyrics is appropriate to the scene. The scene offers revelations to Ayato and the viewer; Quan’s interactions with Ixtli have helped her come to terms with what the “awakening” entails (as images of the second egg lighting up suggest) but also that “She is Olen” just as Ayato is. Yet her singing has apparently summoned a Dolem, rather calling into doubt Ixtli’s motives – and when Ayato meets up again with Haruka, she was apparently never on the pier. Throughout the fight, Ayato is haunted by images of Quan and the pervasive singing resulting in him being distracted and consumed by the Dolem. Quan claims she “wants to hold [her] egg”, and that she can awaken with the help of the “Olen of Rahxephon.” As the black egg begins to hatch, Quan’s symbol appears over the pyramids from earlier, and Bahbem once again appears; he seems to have control over her, claiming “there are things you can do, instrumentalist yet to awaken, and things you cannot.” Quan’s personality here has completely changed; she is transfixed by the black egg, which rains down feathers as a shadow Rahxephon begins to appear. Yet for some reason she fails; Helena echoes Bahbem’s claim she is unready to awaken, and as she collapses Ayato is able to apparently defeat the Dolem. Yet while he destroys part of it, the remainder disappears rather than exploding as the others do – a possible sign that, like Quan’s incomplete awakening, these events remain unresolved.

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